How to Go Green: Rentals

How to Green Your Rental Apartment Condo Townhome Home photo
Migrated Image

Greening your home is one of the most important steps you can take towards living a greener life, yet so much of the advice on sustainable homes is written with the home-owner in mind. What about those of us who rent? Installing insulation, erecting solar panels, or replacing our windows is almost certainly not an option. So what can we still do to lessen our impact?

Fortunately, even while renting, we've got more control over our living environment than we may think. Whether we're changing out our light bulbs, applying weather stripping, painting with low VOC paints, or growing salads and herbs on our windowsill, every little effort we make takes us a step closer to sustainability. And who knows, by keeping good relations with our landlord or lady, we might even persuade them to insulate that loft after all.

Top Green Rental Property Tips

  1. Choose Well
    The location of your home can have a huge impact on your ability to live sustainably, so think hard about your lifestyle when you are looking for your next rental property. Are there good connections to mass transit? Is it walking distance to work, or downtown? Are the roads safe for cyclists? It might help you to talk with current residents to find out more, or just take some time to scope out the neighborhood by yourself. The more people who seek out greener communities, the more developers and local authorities will be motivated to create them. How to begin? Visit Walk Score to locate restaurants, parks, grocers and other businesses and amenities within walking distance of your possible future home.
  2. Live Small or Live Together
    You might not be able to afford that passive solar house of your dreams, but you can still have a huge impact on your home's energy consumption simply by limiting its size. The smaller your house or apartment, the less energy is needed to heat and light it, and the smaller its physical footprint on the land will be. Your can also greatly decrease your personal environmental footprint by sharing your home with others. Sharing energy bills, appliances and common space automatically means that more people can live with less stuff. Besides saving money on your bills, you can save money on rent, too, and have a little extra to spend at the farmers market...
  3. Talk to your Landlord
    One of the biggest obstacles to living green in a rental property is the feeling of powerlessness to make changes. It's important to remember that as a tenant you are a customer and you deserve decent service. A good landlady or landlord should work with you to make your home as pleasant as possible. So talk to them if the property is drafty, the toilet keeps running, or heating systems are inefficient - after all, investing in improvements will help them to retain tenants, attract new ones, and it will increase the value of their property. The owner might be particularly amenable to funding improvements if you do the math to show them the return on their investment, and offer your labor free of charge, creating a win-win situation for all concerned.
  4. Get Good Habits
    With all the buzz around solar panels, LEDs, and smart homes, it can be easy to forget that much of what makes a house or apartment green is the behavior of those who live in it. Recycling your waste, turning the lights out when you leave the room, putting on a sweater when you're cold - all of these things are simple to implement, and they're at least as important as owning the latest in fashionable green gadgetry. Putting a little thought into how you arrange your home can make a big difference too - put the recycling bin where it's easy to access, keep your reusable shopping bags close to hand, and plug all your electronic devices into one power strip so you don't have to switch each one off separately. With a little forethought, green habits can become second nature.
  5. Stay Snug
    Many rental properties suffer from poor insulation or leaky doors and windows, but it doesn't have to be that way. By applying simple, affordable measures, like weather stripping to doors and windows, or placing reflective foil behind radiators, you can have a significant impact on your energy bills. You can even apply plastic glazing to windows to increase heat retention. Installing sun shielding shades and blinds can also go a long way to regulate light and temperature in your home.
  6. Find Your Power
    Off-grid living is not feasible for most of us renters, but that doesn't mean we can't go renewable. Many large utility purveyors are now offering green power options. You can also purchase offsets from a reputable supplier to compensate for your household energy usage. There are also an increasing number of small-scale renewable energy devices on the market, from solar cookers to phone chargers to hand-crank radios and lanterns. While the energy they produce is unlikely to make up a large proportion of your household usage, they can be an inspiring first step towards energy independence.
  7. Lighten Up
    Yes, the ultimate eco home makeover may be beyond your grasp for now, but it only takes eighteen seconds to screw in a light bulb. By switching out your incandescent lights for compact fluorescents, or even the LEDs that are becoming increasingly available, you can save a considerable amount of energy and money. And if you're concerned about moving on before the investment pays for itself, you can simply take them with you. Alternatively, you can leave them behind to help future tenants on the path to green en-light-enment.
  8. Be Water Wise
    Water is becoming an ever-scarcer resource. Of course, installing the latest in low-flush toilets would be great, but it's not too high on most landlords' priority lists. Start small by encouraging your landlord to install water-efficient faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads on your taps; if they aren't up for springing for new ones, the installations are easy enough that you can do it, if they'll let you. As with energy, our use of water has as much to do with our own behavior as it does with technology. Spend less time in the shower; consider only flushing the toilet when you need to (follow the old adage 'If its brown flush it down, if its yellow, let it mellow'); don't run the tap when brushing your teeth; only use your washing machine and dishwasher with a full load, and consider reusing water from your bath or shower to water plants - these simple measures alone can cut your water use by over 50%.
  9. Any Color You Like, As Long As It's Green
    Adding a fresh coat of paint to a rental property can be one of the easiest ways to make it feel like home. Unfortunately, many paints are loaded with toxins that are not only harmful to the environment, but can also be hazardous to your health. Be sure to search out brands of paint with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and you can even experiment with the increasing number of natural paints that are appearing on the market; we've got some green paint suggestions below.
  10. Buy Green
    When the average renter moves into a new apartment, they spend as much as $4,000 on new furniture and other items to make it feel like home. If you're needing to fill up your new abode, scour antique shops, flea markets, Craigslist or classified ads for pre-loved furniture; if buying new, look for heirloom quality furniture made from FSC-certified or reclaimed wood, and take the time to seek out energy efficient appliances. Choosing to furnish your home with lasting products is key to maintaining your sustainable abode. While it may be tempting to run to IKEA for all your furniture needs, ask yourself is that new coffee table will realistically last you 'til your next move (or even until the next year). If your space is limited, you should also consider multi-functional transformer furniture - as we're fond of saying, less is more when it comes to living green.

Green Rental Properties: By The Numbers

  • 78 percent: Percentage of Colorado households receiving financial assistance with energy costs that live in rental accommodation, and 13 percent of their household income goes to meet their energy needs.
  • 1.2 million: Estimated number of U.K. households that will still be in fuel poverty (that is, spending more than 10 percent of their income on energy costs) in 2010. The vast majority of these will be in rental accommodation.
  • $115: Savings, per year, each household can realize by
    weatherizing windows and doors.

Sources: Energy Outreach, Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Canadian Parliament

Where to Get Green Rental Property Materials

Compost Your Trash

Grow Your Own Food


Low VOC Paints

Renewable Energy Devices

Further Reading on Green Rental Properties

Read up on green rental properties in these other worthwhile sources.

It's wise to stduy the ways of your adversaries; HowStuffWorks uncovers how landlords work and rent-to-own homes.

Sharing a house or apartment with others can be a great way to lessen your impact, but the social side can be tricky. The BBC offers some tips to get you through.

Renting a house or an apartment in a walkable neighborhood means decreasing our dependency on vehicles to facilitate our daily routines. The Walk Score website allows you to calculate the walkability of your future home.

A Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing offers, well, a blueprint for greening affordable housing.

No Impact Man's blog is a wealth of resources for anyone wanting to live greener, no matter what their living situation.

The Edible Container Garden is a great resource for growing your own food in limited spaces.